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What is a word processor?

Learn more about the many capabilities of word processing software and how word processors have become an essential technology tool.

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What is a word processor?

A word processor is a device or software program capable of creating, storing, and printing text documents. It allows users to write and modify text, display it on a screen, save it electronically, and print it out.

Word processing software is one of the most common technology tools in the world, allowing users to create resumes and cover letters, business correspondence, blog posts, novels, and more.

Traditionally, word processors were computer applications downloaded to a specific number of computers. But as cloud computing has become more common, so have browser-based word processors. These typically lack the more advanced features of a traditional program; however, they offer more flexibility and the ability to collaborate in real time.

Read on to learn more about the various features of word processing software.

  • Text manipulation

    The main feature of any word processor is the ability to manipulate text within a document, such as the ability to insert, cut and paste, and copy text. More advanced capabilities may include word wrapping, where the program automatically moves to the next line once you’ve filled the current one with text. The ability to quickly type, edit, and move text is what makes word processing programs such valuable tools for any computer user.

  • Font specifications

    Another standard feature of word processors is the ability to change the look of fonts within a document. Most programs give users the ability to bold, italicize, and underline text, as well as change the font size. Different typefaces are usually available, helping users create a document that is more uniform and easier to read than something handwritten.

  • Page layout

    Most word processing software allows users to change the layout of the document they’re creating. This could include changing the page size, margins, and indentations, and adding columns. It could also include the option to create headers and footers, and page numbers.

  • Graphics

    Basic word processors may give users the ability to add simple tables, graphs, or numbered lists, but those with more advanced capabilities offer greater options when it comes to adding visual elements. Some allow users to embed illustrations, more complex graphs, and even videos. These graphics can either be created within the word processing software itself or produced in a different program and then copied over.

  • Collaboration tools

    Browser-based word processors make it easy for multiple people to collaborate on the same document. For example, Word on lets users track their changes, leave comments, tag and assign tasks to others, and review previous versions of the document. In a world where people need to collaborate across continents, these collaboration tools are invaluable.

  • Spelling and grammar assistance

    Most word processing programs feature built-in spell checking as well as basic grammar checking. They may also have a searchable thesaurus and be able to provide suggestions for word choice. Some processors, however, have a more robust editing capability. For example, Microsoft Editor not only checks for spelling and grammar mistakes, but it also suggests areas that could use more clarity, checks online sources for similarities, and rates document readability.

The benefits of word processing software

Word processing software has become a technological necessity. Whether at home or at work, word processors help users write more in less time, in text that is easy to read. Plus, with cloud synchronization, users across the globe can create documents together in real time.

Text editors vs. word processors vs. desktop publishers

Though similar to word processing software, text editors and desktop publishers serve different, more specific purposes.
Three people working at their desks next to each other in an open office environment

What is a word processor?

As we’ve learned, a word processor is a device or software program capable of creating, storing, and printing text documents. It allows users to write and modify text, display it on a screen, save it electronically, and print it out. These programs are great tools for the average user that needs to create text-heavy documents. When compared to text editors or desktop publishers, most users will find the features of a word processor perfect for their everyday needs.

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What is a text editor?

A text editor is a simplified version of a word processor, allowing users to open, view, and edit plain text files. The focus here isn't on formatting the text, just editing it. Text editors, such as Microsoft Notepad, are primarily used by software programmers and web developers. These programs make it easier to write and edit in programming and markup languages and are ideal for users that need to write quickly and simply, or easily read source code.

Two people having a conversation and looking at paperwork

What is a desktop publisher?

On the other end of the spectrum are desktop publishers. These systems are, in many ways, more advanced than word processors, and focused on the visual formatting of documents. Desktop publishers give professional designers more control over layout and colors, enabling them to create high-quality documents with both text and graphics that are ready to print.

Choosing the right word processor for you

As with any tool, it's important to choose the word processing program that fits your needs. Ask yourself:
  • Do you work mostly in coding languages?
  • Do you work with a lot of graphic elements?
  • Do you need to collaborate with other writers?

Of course, make sure you pick a word processor for your preferred operating system, whether that me Windows, macOS, Android, or something else.

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